Milpitas City Council unanimously voted Aug. 18 to authorize that a letter be sent to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority regarding potential funding for an automated people mover here.

"This issue revolves around an interest that seems to be building for either PRT personal rapid transit or automated transit networks, they kind of are similar in many ways," Mayor Bob Livengood told his council colleagues prior to their vote.

Livengood noted that City of San Jose had already requested VTA consider further study and potential use of 2000 Measure A voter-approved funding for an automated transit network in the vicinity of the Mineta San Jose International Airport.

City of San Jose's request regarded a PRT system to provide rail connection between the airport, the Santa Clara Caltrain and future Bay Area Rapid Transit Station and North First Street light rail.

According to City of San Jose, the PRT system would offer a computer-controlled system of small, lightweight four- to six-passenger cars or vehicles suspended on or below an elevated guideway. The vehicles, sometimes called "podcars," wait at stations for passengers to arrive and there are no scheduled routes as the passengers specify their destination. Described as an exclusive horizontal elevator with seats, the futuristic rail system could offer riders an on-demand, non-stop transit system.

Currently, one PRT system a 25 mph battery powered, five-passenger cab is under construction


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at the London Heathrow Airport in Great Britain with completion anticipated in November.

Proponents of PRT note the concept of building these smaller, on-demand "podcar" rail systems would lower the construction costs seen with much larger mass transit systems, reduce visibly intrusive rail lines, lower energy costs related to moving larger trains around and reduce waiting times for users because the system is conceived as being on-demand and available when a rider steps up to a railway platform.

Opponents to PRT claim the concept is not feasible, noting project failures due to financing, transit regulations, political considerations, and design flaws, among others.

In San Jose, the proposed PRT system may cost as much as $50 million to construct. As part of their request, City of San Jose officials asked VTA to include $4 million toward development of PRT in that city.

In Milpitas, the city council agreed that if VTA were to study options to fund a PRT system in other parts of the county, then City of Milpitas should not be overlooked.

"My position is that if there is going to be money that is going to be allocated for this I would like to have the City of Milpitas' nose in the tent, so to speak," Livengood said.

The mayor added with this vote the council was not approving any particular development or project.

"But I would like the council to authorize a letter that says ÔHey, we've got a potential here,' let us at least kind of speak up a little bit ... If we don't speak up than we won't get any money," Livengood said.

For Milpitas, a PRT system might conceivably connect Yosemite Drive with Curtis Avenue from the Parktown area to GreatMall another way to stimulate more business in town, proponents say.

After the meeting, Livengood suggested the still conceptual overcrossing could be a good location for a PRT system. He added VTA's study and potential funding, which might ultimately include a local match of funds from the city, may create easy movement of people from parts of Milpitas to its most centralized shopping area.

"I still think it's a viable concept to make a crossing at the GreatMall to the Parktown," Livengood said.

During the council meeting, resident Rob Means who for years has urged Milpitas officials to study the use of a PRT system here was pleased with their move to send a letter to VTA.

"We don't know what the federal government's going to be doing in terms of allocating funds for new technologies," Means said. "We know that things are shifting at the federal level ... so we've got the hope of getting some money to do something here."

Means suggested that if a PRT system was built in Milpitas it might make the city one of a kind for any American city.

"I think that if we're first in the nation we would really have a real calling card and invite people down to take a look, visit and stay and shop here in Milpitas," Means said.

Vice Mayor Pete McHugh agreed.

"I would like to commend Mr. Means for continuing to carry the torch on this," McHugh said. "I think it is appropriate that we at least indicate our interest and we may be able to come up with a pilot project."